Today, when you read the match reports on Barcelona’s 3-0 loss to Juventus, you will see repeatedly reporters giving the La Liga side a chance to advance simply because they did so against Paris Saint-Germain in a similar instance. Don’t believe it. Luis Enrique made a gamble prior to this match that backfired and, in a match-up with a thin margin of error, that mistake may prove definitive.
Coming into the match, the focus was on if Javier Mascherano could serve as an adequate holding midfielder for Barcelona. He could not on the night, but Enrique made another decision that turned out to be worse. Seemingly concerned about the height of Juventus’ payers, he started a taller backline which included placing Jeremy Mathieu at left back. That left him to deal defensively with the speedy Juan Cuadrado, and this was the exact opening Juventus needed to enact their game plan.
The Old Lady and Massimiliano Allegri obviously studied the PSG game plan against Barcelona and emulated the positive aspects of the match. From kick-off they jumped on Barcelona with high pressure and essentially neutralized the backline as an offensive threat. As it was in France, this left Barcelona unsettled and unable to get into their passing rhythm until they were already behind. When Barca turned the ball over, Juventus used the wings to pressure the defence, especially the right. The defining image of this match is early on when Dybala had the ball wide and across the field was an uncovered Cuadrado waving his arms like a mad man to get his teammate’s attention. Of course it was Cuadrado who beat Mathieu and found Dybala with just enough space to score the first goal.
Once the first goal went in, Juventus adopted a comfortable 4-5-1 and absorbed pressure. Gone was the constant high press and replacing it was a softer probing defence which suited the Juventus line-up. The second goal came off the counter and, ironically, the third goal came off a set piece. Mathieu was not at fault, however, as he was subbed off mercifully at halftime.
Like the PSG match, Barcelona failed to adapt to a more aggressive side and fell behind big in their tie. This was a problem in Paris, but it is a much bigger problem against Juve. The Italian side have a strong, veteran defence and will not come unhinged as easily as PSG if Barcelona start strong. In addition, Allegri offers a tactical advantage over Enrique that makes this a tougher hill to climb for the La Liga side. Anything can happen at the Camp Nou in the Champions League, but it’s hard to imagine that Enrique can makeup for his terrible lineup mistake in this match to help Barcelona advance.